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Halverson

Halverson says $20M needed for Downtown

By Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

Jacksonville Civic Council Chair Steve Halverson, pinch hitting Wednesday for former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as keynote speaker to the JAXUSA Partnership, said it takes investment and community support to make Downtown work.

How much investment? “$20 million to $30 million a year, for a period of time,” Halverson said during his presentation and again after, reinforcing the figure presented by the Civic Council in 2011 when it unveiled its Northbank Redevelopment Task Force Final Report.

Yet, $20 million to $30 million would be a hefty increase to the much smaller budget of the Downtown Investment Authority, which began meeting in October 2012 after Mayor Alvin Brown signed legislation creating it.

Halverson said creation of the authority was one of the “big issues” that the private Jacksonville Civic Council, now with 67 members, has studied and recommended.

“We’re not done with that,” he told members of JAXUSA, the economic development division of the JAX Chamber.

He said Downtown needs money, a purpose and a plan and promised that the Civic Council will “stay engaged until it is happening.”

Downtown Investment Authority Chair Oliver Barakat said this morning that the organization has access to about $11 million from economic development, historic preservation and tax-increment funds.

“I think the message is we are going to need to invest significantly more than we have in the past if we are going to make a sincere effort for revitalization in the short term,” Barakat said.

Barakat said the authority is working on its business plan and coming up with a list of the short-term and mid-term projects. He said he didn’t know the total cost, but “I don’t think Steve Halverson is off the mark by too wide a range.”

He said the Downtown investment funds would be needed for incentives as well as for infrastructure and horizontal improvements, such as lighting, parks and streets.

“I think we will know more in the next 60 days from a DIA standpoint what exactly will be in our plans and what it is going to cost,” Barakat said.

The JAXUSA meeting was attended by about 450 people at the Hyatt Downtown.

Mayor Alvin Brown said Wednesday at the event that Jacksonville and its partners were working with Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida to survey the area market about its global participation and potential.

Halverson, president and CEO of The Haskell Co., listed the five issues undertaken by the Civic Council since its formation in 2010, succeeding the former Jacksonville Non-Group.

Pension reform was a major one. The Civic Council issued a pension-reform report that is one of the documents under consideration by the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force created by Brown.

Halverson said that task force’s recommendations will be “a blueprint for success,” and said resolving the $1.7 billion unfunded liability of the Police and Fire Pension Fund will require extra revenues.

That issue is one so large in the city that “it blocks out the sun” of other needs. He believes the recommended solutions are coming soon.

Then there was vision. Halverson insists that Jacksonville business leaders, elected officials and residents need to agree on a vision for the city.

“We have to build an authentic and widely shared vision of the future,” he said.

Along with Jacksonville Community Council Inc.’s JAX2025 recommendations, created almost a year ago, and other groups’ proposals, Halverson outlined several goals toward creating a vision:

• Make the Duval County Public Schools “best large urban school district in the country” within 10 years.

• Deeply invest in higher education.

• Solve the pension problem. Now.

• Build an industry-specific business recruitment plan. “You can’t be everything to everybody, but you can be everything to somebody,” he said. Create that plan and “relentlessly pursue” the industries.

• Make Downtown real. The $20 million to $30 million a year would be necessary to make Downtown the center of the city.

• Attract and engage the younger generation. He said millennials, the 19- to 35-year-olds, want to be engaged in the community and believe in fairness. He said the generation might be the first to not think in terms of race, gender and sexual identity.

The Civic Council’s “seven criteria that define our vision” on the jaxciviccouncil.com site are a safe city; great schools K-12 and beyond; a growing economy with a varied base of growth industries; a standard of operational excellence at all levels of government; a fun and energetic downtown; a strong arts, cultural and sports environment; and a city that offers equal opportunities

for all, regardless of race or religion.

Talk about a workable and shared vision for Jacksonville has been discussed both publicly, as in JAX2025, created by the community through a series of workshops, and quietly, among a base of supporters who want to see the city unify behind a shared brand.

City Council President Bill Gulliford said after the event that creating a vision means more than just a few people or a few groups deciding what it is.

“To have a real vision that will work, you have to have people at the table,” he said.

He talked about neighborhood representatives and others who need to be involved. “You can have all the visions in the world, but until you get them included, they won’t feel” a part of it.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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